Corporate leader Anne Stevens bridges her career and retirement while still contributing greatly to the Topsail Island community.
Gone is the old-fashioned notion of retirement: You put in your time, get a great send-off party and head off to garden or golf. Many of today’s retirees see their golden years as a chance for a second act, where one foot might be planted on the beach somewhere, but the other is still in the boardroom
For Topsail Island resident Anne Stevens, her transition to retirement has been anything but traditional. She retired as chief executive of GKN plc in April 2018 but now serves as independent non-executive director at AngloAmerican. She also teaches and lectures throughout the year. At 70, even the lure of a retirement home on Topsail Island isn’t enough to get her to completely stop working, but it sure makes her look forward to coming home after traveling the world.
“It’s fantastic still being connected with a global economy and knowing what’s going on in the business world, but it’s a pleasure to come home to the beach, my family, my dogs and my friends,” Stevens says.
In 2014 Stevens and her husband, Bill, bought their first home on Topsail. Seven years prior, after a recommendation from their daughter, they visited the island. They looked at some houses and kept the area in mind while they took a house-hunting trip through Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and the rest of North Carolina. But when they were finally ready to purchase a forever home, everything led them back to Topsail.
However, that first home turned out not to be their forever home. With children, grandchildren, friends and family visiting often, they soon bought a larger house just a few doors down that much better accommodates their family’s needs.
When Stevens is home, she makes the most of her leisure time — and not just spending it with her husband or walking their one- and two-year-old Doberman Pinchers on the beach. She is a dedicated volunteer for various nonprofit groups in Topsail. She is a sea turtle volunteer, walking the beach to look for and protect nests and participating in turtle crawls. She also joined the Kiwanis Club of Topsail Island Area, which serves community children through programs and clubs. And with the Topsail Island Historic Society, Stevens has found her niche, where she can bridge her background in national security with their Missiles & More Museum.
“Having served on the board of Lockheed Martin, I’m very interested in the national security of our country,” she says. “Just look at the rich history of this island and the contributions it’s made to security, specifically where the missiles were assembled for Operation Bumblebee Back in the ’40s.”
Operation Bumblebee was the secret U.S. missiles testing project that operated on the island during the 1940s and on nearby Camp Davis, where soldiers practiced anti-aircraft firing. The museum, which showcases artifacts donated by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, including missile mock-ups and films showing Camp Davis activities and missile test flights, is housed in the Assembly Building, where many of the tested missiles were actually developed and built.
“We’re so privileged to have the historical society,” Stevens says. “They do wonderful things in the on-season for tourists, and then in the off-season for locals. It’s a wonderful, social outlet with monthly lectures about North Carolina and the U.S.”
In addition to serving on the board of Lockheed Martin, a global security and aerospace company engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, from 2002 until 2017, Stevens has had a very distinguished career. She served as chief executive of GKN plc from November 2017 to April 2018. From 2011 to 2014, she was the chairman and CEO of SA IT Services. She was chairman and CEO of Carpenter Technology Corporation from 2006 to 2009. Prior to that, she spent 16 years with Americas at Ford Motor Company, ending her career there as COO. An engineer by training, Stevens spent her early career at Exxon Corporation, where she held roles in engineering, product development and sales and marketing. She is also a former non-executive director of XL Catlin.
When it comes to living in Topsail, above all Stevens is an ambassador for the island and its people. For such a small island, the number of great restaurants, the social and volunteer activities and the close connection to culture amazes Stevens. And, of course, the natural surroundings inspire her.
“We’re so fortunate because we have such natural beauty here,” Steven says. “From Banks Channel to the ocean. It’s not as commercial as some areas. I can still go out on the beach in tourist season and not feel crowded. We can walk our dogs year-round on the beach. And we’re less than an hour away from Wilmington. Even though we have this wonderful island paradise, we’re still connected to the mainland and have access to all of the culture that we want.”
Perhaps it’s the people that Stevens was most impressed with when she and her husband first visited Topsail. Their genuine welcoming attitude, philanthropic spirit and mix of demographics and backgrounds immediately won the Stevenses over, and they knew they could build lifelong friendships with the people in the community. “It’s almost like the neighborhoods I grew up in, when neighbors would sit on their porches and look out for each other,” she says. “We used to call each other the stoop troop. I feel like we have that in Topsail.”
Bill retired nearly 20 years ago and enjoys golfing on most days. And when Stevens thought about life on the beach when she finally did decide to retire, she just “never imagined there would be so much to do.” But with all the free time she would have to take up those activities full-time, it’s still not enough to convince her to retire completely.
“When the phone stops ringing and my talent is no longer needed, I’ll stop working,” Stevens says. “But as long as it’s ringing, I’ll be there.”
Until then, she finds just the right balance for work, leisure pursuits and helping out her new Topsail friends and neighbors.